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Mayor's race pushes council candidates offstage

The eight At Large candidates picked a particularly lousy time to be in a Duluth City Council primary. By their own admission, a mayoral race with 11 candidates has made it tough to grab residents' attention. "It's been more challenging, not just...

The eight At Large candidates picked a particularly lousy time to be in a Duluth City Council primary.

By their own admission, a mayoral race with 11 candidates has made it tough to grab residents' attention.

"It's been more challenging, not just to talk to people for the race but to raise money," said candidate Jeff Anderson, who with volunteers has distributed 10,000 fliers, knocked on more than 5,000 doors and put up 400 signs.

As of the end of August, Anderson had raised $10,743 and spent $10,388.

If all goes well Tuesday, he's going to raise and spend another $10,000 before the Nov. 6 general election.

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"You shouldn't have to wait until after the primaries" to attract the attention of the media or the public, said candidate Jon Donahue.

The candidates said they have a lot more ground to cover than counterparts in district races.

The eight are vying for a pair of open At Large seats. One seat is from mayoral candidate Don Ness, while the other is of current At Large candidate and incumbent Tim Little.

Multiple factors have played into making this primary race particularly challenging for At Large candidates, said Craig Grau, a political science professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

"It's not just that it's a mayoral race, but it's a mayoral race with a lot of candidates in it," he said. "It's got to be tough for those At Large candidates to get your message out."

Plus, because there are so many candidates, there's a shrinking pool of politically active volunteers to help, candidates said. And the bulk of those available gravitate toward helping mayoral candidates, Grau said.

Henry Banks, who has raised $2,000 and spent $1,800, said his campaign is going well, but he admitted it is hard to attract much attention.

Finding opportunities to debate where he can distinguish himself from other candidates has been tough, Banks said. So far he's been focused on distributing fliers and putting up signs around town.

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Candidate Tony Cuneo said the mayoral race shouldn't hog the attention in the general election because the candidate pool will be sliced to just two contenders. That should leave more time for the four At Large candidates, he said.

Realizing they can't wage a costly media campaign, Cuneo's crew focused on door-knocking and neighborhood parties.

So far, out of the $8,534 he raised by the end of August, Cuneo has spent $5,275, with the biggest chunks paying for T-shirts, lawn signs and bumper stickers.

"We've tried to pick one or two things and do them well," he said.

Current councilor Tim Little is waiting to see whether he makes it through the primaries before doing heavy campaigning.

"I'll step it up after the primary, if I'm still in the race," Little said. He has raised $550 so far but hasn't spent any. He's saving some cash by using his old campaign signs.

Donahue hasn't spent any money, either.

"I'd love to get through the primaries without raising a dollar," he said.

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His most recent campaign finance report said he neither raised nor spent any money.

But it does frustrate him that so little attention is paid to his race.

"I think a great disservice has been provided the public," Donahue said.

Becky Hall, meanwhile, has received $2,325 in contributions as of the end of August and spent $2,318.

"It was a lot easier doing just half of the city," Hall said, referring to her unsuccessful campaign last fall against incumbent Thomas Huntley in state House District 7A seat.

Jack Arnold, who raised $2,254 and spent $1,357, said the big mayoral primary may help the At Large race in one sense.

"It brings more attention to the entire community that something is going on," he said.

So far, candidate Tony Salls hasn't raised any money but has spent $142.

"I think people pay more attention to the race in general, after the primary," he said.

And that, he thinks, is unfortunate.

Once the group dwindles to four, some good ideas of losing candidates are forgotten by the remaining bunch, he said.

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